CAIRO: Millions of Muslims across the world on Tuesday celebrated Eid al-Fitr, the feast marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, with calls for tolerance amid a surge of violence in Iraq and heightened security in Asia.
Top clerics in the Middle East called for acceptance and dialogue following a year marked by angry and sometimes violent Muslim reactions to blasphemous caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed published in a Danish newspaper last year, and a speech by Pope Benedict XVI linking Islam with violence in September.
In Egypt, Sheikh Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi, the head of Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam s main seat of learning, called on Muslims to stand together in the face of aggression , urging them to build, not destroy.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak attended Tantawi s sermon in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, while thousands of worshippers in Cairo gathered for the early Morning Prayer outside the main mosque of the upmarket district of Mohandesseen under bright coloured lights, banners and balloons.
In Amman, Jordan s King Abdullah II attended morning prayers at the King Hussein bin Talal mosque, where prayer leader Ahmad Hleil highlighted the tolerance of Islam which he said was based on charity, forgiveness, justice, honesty and dialogue.
Meanwhile the press reported that hotels and furnished apartments were running at full occupancy in the southern Red Sea resort of Aqaba, Jordan s only outlet to the sea where temperatures were at a high of 30 degrees Celsius.
In Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz spent the Eid, which started Monday, in the Muslim holy city of Mecca. There, the imam of Islam s holiest shrine, Sheikh Saleh bin Humaid, said the fear of the spread of Islam in non-Muslim countries motivates attacks on Muslims in the West.
The beginning of the Islamic month is set by the visual sighting of a new moon rather than scientific calculation, causing regional differences in determining the exact day of the Eid.
In Dubai, the usual rush-hour traffic congestion disappeared, as crowds rushed to gigantic malls and the town s indoor ski slope – the only of its kind in the Middle East – was covered with holiday skiers.
But the festive mood was in stark contrast to the violence in Iraq where deadly bomb attacks ripped through Baghdad s streets as Iraqis marked the end of the bloodiest Ramadan since the US invasion. In Lebanon, Sunnis celebrated Eid Tuesday, a day after their Shiite compatriots did so, with many visiting the tombs of relatives and fighters killed in Hezbollah s July-August war with Israel.
In the south of the country, where thousands of homes still lie in ruins, the stricken population is more focused on patching up buildings before the cold weather arrives than on buying the traditional new clothes and sweets.
In Asia, Eid came amid heightened security across much of the continent. Police in Afghanistan said they would maintain high security for the three-day holiday, after fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar pledged to intensify strikes against foreign forces in the country.
President Hamid Karzai called on the world s Muslims to help his country rid itself of insurgents and urged the militants to stop serving foreign interests .
Security was also tight in parts of Indonesia, the world s most populous Muslim nation, where millions took part in morning prayers on Tuesday.
Two men jailed for their roles in the 2005 Bali blasts that killed 202 people were freed as thousands of prisoners in Indonesia had their sentences cut to mark the day.
The Philippines seven million Muslims enjoyed a peaceful end to Ramadan although police were on heightened alert in Manila following reports that terrorists might take advantage of the festivities to bomb strategic areas.
Muslims in Thailand s southern provinces, where an Islamic insurgency has raged for nearly three years, also celebrated Eid under tight security after a deadly surge in violence in the last two weeks which killed 28 people.
Malaysia s Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi used the occasion to urge greater economic development in Muslim nations to combat perceptions that Islam is against progress and promotes terrorism.
In Turkey, political life is on hold during the celebration, when residents flock to the country s Mediterranean beaches.
Eid was also celebrated in Europe, where some 15 million Muslims reside.
In France, where some four million Muslims make up the country s second religion, Eid was celebrated by thousands with morning prayers at the mosques, followed by large meals with friends and family.
In London, the first ever Eid celebration will take place on Saturday in Trafalgar Square, featuring live entertainment, a street bazaar and exhibitions about Islam, the city s mayor said.